This is quite the mash up of books Dani and I read for this project in late January/February, Trade Me by Courtney Milan and A Knight in Shining Armor by Jude Deveraux. Our quick thoughts on Trade Me are that it was really good, but ends very abruptly and also was maybe missing something. I’m still holding out hope that we will eventually get Find Me, which I think will address some of the abrupt ending. So if RWA and everyone awful could stay out of Courtney’s life so that she can focus on ice skating and writing and whatever else brings her joy (I’m assuming Find Me gives her joy, here’s hoping) that would be great. Anyway, our quick thoughts on A Knight in Shining Armor are WTF (me) and that it didn’t really hold up the way that Dani was hoping. There will be some plot spoilers related to Knight, so tread lightly if you don’t want to know anything. But also, there’s no way to explain my very strong feelings without telling you about the plot. Anyway, let us proceed…
Trade Me by Courtney Milan is the first book in Milan’s Cyclone series and follows Tina Chen and Blake Reynolds, who come from very different socioeconomic classes and decide to trade lives for a bit after getting into an argument in a college course. Tina Chen is living in an apartment that definitely wouldn’t pass a building inspection if one was ever done and is trying to manage to pay for her own college life and pay some bills for her parents. All while maintaining a great GPA. It’s a lot. And Blake is the heir apparent to Cyclone (think Apple) and has more money than he could spend in several lifetimes. He’s also under a lot of pressure and is not really managing that well. This is partially because he’s still grieving for his father’s right hand man, a man who was like another father to him. We also meet Maria Lopez, light of my life, and Adam Reynolds in this book, both of whom are truly excellent side characters.
Dani and I both had a lot that we liked about Trade Me. For me, I prefer Hold Me to Trade Me, but I do really enjoy both. And a big part of why we like Trade Me is that Tina Chen is really incredible. She faces off against Adam (Blake’s dad) and it’s amazing how she just utterly demolishes his ridiculousness. She works so hard for her family and for herself and she’s just really wonderful. We also liked a lot about what Courtney Milan does in terms of representation for things we’ve not seen done yet. For example, Blake has an eating disorder, which is not something that we feel gets represented very often. Other representation that was interesting is that Tina’s parents practice Falun Gong. Interestingly, Dani was talking to some of her former coworkers who were first and second generation Chinese, and they were saying Falun Gong is a cult and had a pretty negative opinion about it. In the book, the practice of Falun Gong is what led to Tina’s parents having to leave China. It turns out (as discussed in the book, very briefly) that it was really dangerous to practice Falun Gong in China and many of their practitioners were imprisoned or fled to seek asylum elsewhere. So Dani really appreciated learning more about Falun Gong and the very real suffering its practitioners faced in China. Anyway, all in all, we both really liked Trade Me, aside from the fact that the book ends rather abruptly. We think that will likely be addressed when Find Me happens, but it’s difficult to know when that will be.
A Knight in Shining Armor by Jude Deveraux was my first Deveraux and, um, that was quite the introduction. It follows Dougless Montgomery as she travels to England with her boyfriend and his daughter. Her boyfriend is an absolute nightmare and through a series of events, she winds up stranded at this church and her crying leads to the sudden appearance of Nicholas Stafford, a 16th century duke. The two fall in love, somehow, while trying to figure out who betrayed Nicholas and led to him being three days from being executed as a traitor. Then (and here are the plot spoilers), he goes back in time and eventually Dougless follows. She shows up, though, three years before he came forward. She’s determined to change things in this timeline for him and even though he’s a complete jerk, they fall in love again. I won’t spoil the HEA at this point, but just know that in my opinion, we didn’t get one.
A really fun thing that Dani and I discovered is that we actually read two different versions of A Knight in Shining Armor. Dani read the revised version from 2002, which apparently had fifty extra pages in it and was revised (at least in theory) to make you better understand why Dougless was with Richard (who is truly the worst boyfriend). I read a version from the 90s that didn’t have those extra 50 pages and like, thank goodness because I really don’t know that I could have handled an extra 50 pages!
Some things I want to lay out for you before we jump in too far though are that (a) there’s a lot of fat shaming in this book and (b) it’s really weird that the late 80s/early 90s feels historical. And now, to jump in. Dani mentioned that she thinks A Knight in Shining Armor is objectively better than The Magic of You, but I would disagree. In my defense, Dani made that statement while she was still reading the second half of the novel and I was already in my feelings about how much I hate the end of this book. But we are both curious as to what anyone who has read these recently would think, so if you’ve got opinions, please share!
The main thing that Dani and I kept discussing is how and if this book works as a romance. For example, when Dougless goes back in time, she’s in love with the Nicholas who time traveled to the future and adjusted to some of the social mores of the time. So I really liked being back in Elizabethean England from a historical fiction novel because it was fascinating, but I didn’t like how she was convinced Nicholas was still that Nicholas underneath all of his lordling privileges. Dani said, “Sure, at the core he’s the same. But I’m a lot different than I was four years ago, so it’s almost like seeing her fall in love with someone else.” To me though, I really had an issue with the fact that she was already in love with him and trying to make him the person he really couldn’t be without experiencing all that he did. Nicholas went through a lot even in his regular time in those three years and those things were life-changing. Not to mention his travel into the future. And Dani agreed, noting that those things “change you enough that your HEA might be with someone different than it would have been.” There’s so much to be said for couples growing together or separating and coming back together after life changing events, but the way this story works, they aren’t growing together and their separation doesn’t provide the same context that would be needed.
We also had a lot to say about power dynamics in the second half of this book, but that’s a theme that gets explored again and again in romance, so this is none too surprising. Dougless had way more power in contemporary times than she did in the past and Nicholas certainly acted on his power in ways neither of us loved in the past. I think though, our thoughts can be roughly summed up by looking at our post on Rock Hard and Gentle Rogue, so I’ll refer you there.
And finally, and here’s where we really get to spoiler territory because there’s no way we can not talk about the ending of this book. In Dani’s words, “Why does she get a reincarnated Nicholas, but he lives alone for the rest of his life? It’s about both people getting an HEA, not just the heroine!” And that is that on that.